'Turkey aims to drive Kurds out of Afrin' - Syrian Kurdish leader
Turkey aims to drive out the Kurds from the northwestern Syrian district of Afrin and replace them with other groups, Shahoz Hasan, the co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), told Ahval in an interview on Sunday, two days before Syrian government-affiliated forces entered Afrin to help support the Kurdish fighters against Turkish attacks.
The PYD is the political wing of the People’s Protections Units (YPG), the armed group that has been defending against the month-old offensive by Turkish troops and their Syrian Islamist allies in Afrin.
The PYD leader is now considered as the head of enemy forces by Turkey, which recently issued an arrest warrant and bounty for the former PYD head, Salih Muslim.
How is the situation in Afrin now?
A month has passed since the attacks on Afrin and during this month, the whole world knows how Turkey’s invading forces are attacking Afrin. Turkey aims to replace the Kurds with other people and there should be an international stand against these attacks.
There is an international conflict between Russia, America, France and Turkey, and Turkey is trying to enter the territory of northern Syria and to occupy it. That’s why there must be an international response to stop these attacks and Turkey should retreat back to its borders.
Do you think a possible agreement between the Syrian government and the YPG [in Afrin] could useful for the future of northern Syria?
From the beginning we said as the PYD that we are fighting for a democratic and federal Syria and we are ready for dialogue. We were ready, but the other sides were not ready. But this project of federalism does not serve the interests of some parties, especially Turkey and they attack us. They don’t accept federalism and democracy anywhere, neither in Syria, nor in the region. We have forces on the ground and we are ready for a solution.
You don’t want the Syrian government to come back to northern Syria like before?
In every region east of the Euphrates, in Deir al-Zour, Raqqa and in general, Kobani, Jazira, every region they have their own administrations and councils. They rule themselves and have their own councils and are protected by their own forces. To reach a political solution in Syria there must be a dialogue for a federal democratic Syria. If the regime says it wants to return to these regions like before, that the Ba'ath party controls all of Syria again with its intelligence services, no one will accept it. Not the people of Deir al-Zour, Raqqa, Kobani or Afrin.
Do you think the Syrian government will accept a federal system?
No, the regime did not accept such a thing until now. And a lot of forces say the regime should go, especially the international community. Now for the solution project; they want to stop this. They want to control everything in Syria again. But I don't think the Syrian government can return to all parts of Syria. They are supported by Iran and Russia. On the other side there are the Americans, French, Germans, the United Kingdom; they are afraid of Iranian influence.
“No one will accept the full return of the regime. Not Kurds, not Arabs, not Syriacs, no one. Therefore, the alternative project for all the people and all components (of society) is the democratic federal Syria project, this is the best solution. And otherwise there is no solution. If the regime continues to think of controlling all of Syria as the Ba'ath party, the conflict will not end.
Turkey says the Kurds have to leave the town of Manbij; it’s an Arab town. Last week there was a meeting between U.S. Secretary Tillerson and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, after which Çavuşoğlu said again that the Kurds should leave Manbij. What do you make of this?
Turkey has no right to talk about Manbij. When it was controlled by Nusra, Ahrar and Islamic State, Turkey was not upset. But after it was liberated by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from ISIS, Turkey said it needed to enter Manbij. The people will resist and the international coalition will not accept this. The Manbij Military Council is a part of the SDF and they will protect it and there are also U.S. troops.
Do you think the United States will give Manbij to Turkey?
No, I don’t believe that. America has its own forces there, why it would give it to Turkey?
But Turkey says that during the previous U.S. administration, former Vice President Joe Biden promised Turkey not to allow the Kurds to cross the Euphrates River, but the United States failed to live up to its promises.
Manbij was liberated by the SDF, the YPG, and the Manbij Military Council. But when Manbij was liberated it was controlled by the Military Council, which is part of the SDF, but all of the members of the council are people from Manbij. So the claims of Turkey are not true. We don’t need Turkey to say there should be no Kurds there. There are Kurds there also, that’s normal, in the town there are Arabs, Turks, Kurds and Circassians living together.
The US wants to repair it’s relations with Turkey. How do you think the United States can solve this problem with Turkey?
That’s a little bit difficult because the thinking of Turkey is chauvinistic, especially the current government. Erdoğan is thinking he can again restore the Ottoman Empire and Islamic Turkey. This is a dangerous policy, and if the international community accepts this, they should also accept ISIS. ISIS also say they believe in Islam with no space for others. Now Turkey attacks Afrin and says the Kurds there don’t have a religion and they are atheists. But there are mosques in Jindiris and other villages that Turkey bombs.
Turkey has said many times its operation is not against the Kurds.
The whole world knows this is not true. If you are not against the Kurds why you are attacking Kurds, why attack Kurds. There was not one bullet fired from Afrin and Turkey continued to kill civilians trying to cross the border.